As astoundingly addictive as Sports Interactive’s football management sims have consistently been, they’ve never lent well to online play. With so much to tinker with between games, actually completing a season with some online chums feels like an achievement right up there with crossing the Sahara desert. While wearing your winter warmers.
Football Manager Live is an altogether different beast. In essence a cross between a good old gaming MMO and all those fantasy football games we’ve tried, it’s all about the online.
Upon getting a hold of the game (you get 4 months of play with the boxed copies you see on the shop shelves, or you can download the client and just pay for the months you play) you have a few options to fiddle with before testing your management skills with thousands of other football obsessives from around the world.
Firstly, your club needs a name. This is a heck of a long way from “real life” football, so there’s no rantings in the press from Sir Alex Ferguson, or Arsene Wenger somehow missing yet another dodgy challenge from one of his players on the pitch. Obviously you’ll want to be as humorous and inventive as possible, though hopefully not along the lines of some of the absolutely horrific puns that already populate the gameworlds.
Once you’ve set up your club, you’ll be urged to choose a gameworld featuring up to 1000 fellow gamers. Choose the one you fancy dominating, and you get the chance to either scour the hefty database of players to bag the initial bunch of lower league cloggers to wow the crowds, or allow the game to randomly select a squad for you to fiddle with.
After that, how you press ahead is entirely up to you. With each gameworld already very well populated, finding an opponent for a swift friendly is astonishingly easy. And once you both agree on a venue, you can be playing within 30 seconds of meeting up.
But as great fun as it can be to compete with fellow gamers in mere one-off games, it’s the competitions where the real fun lies. There are a number of official competitions that you’ll be automatically entered into, each with specific prizes for winning. And with seasons lasting just one month in real time, you can blast through at a fantastically high pace.
Thankfully, to keep the action moving, each game is set a specific date that it MUST be played by. If by that date you don’t happen to catch your opponent online, the game will allow the most active manager to play that match against an AI representation of the opposition manager. A fantastic idea as it keeps the game moving at a wicked pace, with competitions - you can even create your own, and join ones knocked-up by fellow gamers if you fancy even more games - coming thick and fast. So if you’re knocked out in the early stages, you know you’ve only a few weeks to wait before you can try again.
The more you win, and the higher your rank spirals upwards, the more money you’ll bring into your fictional club. Which means you can head out and buy some better players to blast your club into the stratosphere. There are two ways to buy players in Football Manager Live. Either you can barter with a fellow manager and nab one of their top stars for a hefty fee, or make use of the eBay esque transfer system which allows you to bid for unattached and players made available for transfer, with the highest bidder bagging their man. An interesting way to get around the online nature of the game, and one that certainly works. Waking up at 3am specifically to check if someone has outbid you at the last second is something we weren’t expecting in a Football Manager title.
Out on the pitch, all is very Football Manager. Though the 3D match engine featured in FM2009 isn’t there, the top down 2D view remains. You can fiddle with your tactics in real time, making a close watch on your teams’ activities an absolute must. It’s all as exciting as always, perhaps even more so thanks to competing against real life users.
One odd inclusion is the way you have to “learn” new skills. So if you want to use a target man, you must first “learn” that skill which can take anything between a few minutes and a week. It’s odd, and obviously incredibly irritating for long-term fans. It does, however, help introduce you to the nuances of the game a touch more slowly, particularly helping newcomers get to grips with how the game works.
The only major problem here is your typical MMO offering. Gamers who only have the time to dip in and out sporadically might do well to just bag a few months of gaming time and see how they go. If you’re not around regularly you can miss some major bargains, and only actually playing a fraction of your club’s matches is frustrating, particularly if you’re suffering a string of defeats.
Like all MMO’s, you get as much out as you put in. If you’ve got the time, this is easily as addictive as the sublime World of Warcraft, and expect many late evenings as you try and make your club one of the greats.
With the Football Manager framework, a fantastic transfer system, and plenty of games to play every day, this is a cracking title that can easily steal away a good portion of your life. Expect newspaper reports of broken marriages to hit any day now.